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JOHN PEARRELL: God's message is about grace and forgiveness, not rules and regulations

John Pearrell

John Pearrell

How do you see Christianity?

The answer you give to that question depends upon if you are on the inside looking out or on the outside looking in. Whether you are on the inside looking out or the outside looking in, it is still possible to come up with a skewed idea of what Christianity is or isn’t.

Arnold Toynbee observed, “Most people have not rejected Christianity but rather a caricature of it. They have created a straw man, called that ‘Christianity’ and decided against it.”

Many times as I talk with people they’ll tell me that they don’t believe in God or that they don’t believe in the God of Christianity at least. I guess they are expecting some type of argument from me, but my general question to them is, “Tell me, what type of God is it that you don’t believe in?”

Often, after hearing their concept of this God who is not worth following or a version of Christianity that has become skewed in some way, I can honestly respond, “Well, I don’t believe in a God like that either!”

Often people who reject a caricature Christianity, claiming that they are against all the rules and regulations, want only a Christianity that emphasizes the Sermon on the Mount.

Generally, when I hear that I know two things. First, they totally misread what the true Christian message is (it is not about rules and regulations, it is about forgiveness and grace). Second, they have not read the sermon on the Mount because if they had read it they would understand that in that message Jesus set the bar so high that none of us can pole-vault it, let alone hurdle it.

The Sermon on the Mount is not just the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12; that’s just the opening thoughts of the Sermon. The Sermon itself goes from Matthew chapter 5 through chapter 7 verse 28.

Yet, people rip the first 12 verses out of their proper context and try to make them stand alone as some sort of beatific ethical teaching that, if we will only do these things, we can connect with God. The fact of the matter is, we even mess up these 12 verses when we try to apply them in that fashion by divorcing even each verse from its proper setting.

For example, verse 3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” but when this verse is applied with an ethical slant, it is generally presented as “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Suddenly, we removed the concept that Jesus was teaching that only those who realize that they have nothing in and of themselves to offer God have any hope of gaining heaven to somehow meaning the financially destitute are going to be rewarded with heaven.

Such a God is obligated to bless the “have-nots.” Those who “have” aren’t going to be so lucky, we seem to think.

Probably the biggest hindrance people have toward Christianity is the long list of rules they associate with going along with the faith. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

Indeed, Paul wrote, “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” (Galatians 5:1, NLT).

And, “Since you died, as it were, with Christ and this has set you free from following the world’s ideas of how to be saved — by doing good and obeying various rules — why do you keep right on following them anyway, still bound by such rules as not eating, tasting, or even touching certain foods? Such rules are mere human teachings, for food was made to be eaten and used up.

“These rules may seem good, for rules of this kind require strong devotion and are humiliating and hard on the body, but they have no effect when it comes to conquering a person’s evil thoughts and desires. They only make him proud.” (Colossians 2:20–23, The Living Bible).

Are there rules? Yes. But those rules are not so that we can be included in God’s family, but rather are regulations that show the world that we belong to God’s family.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway Web site at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email john.pearrell@gatewaycommunity.org.